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Lara Croft Returns - Episode 1: The Complex of Sofia and Natla by Boris Samoilenko

AdamR 8 9 7 7
Ceamonks890 7 8 9 9
DJ Full 8 9 9 7
dmdibl 9 9 10 9
eRIC 9 9 10 8
Jose 7 8 8 9
manarch2 7 8 9 7
MichaelP 7 8 8 7
Orbit Dream 9 9 9 10
Phil 8 8 9 8
Ruben 7 8 9 7
Ryan 9 9 9 8
Sakusha 9 8 9 8
Shandroid 8 9 8 9
Treeble 6 8 7 7
release date: 21-Sep-2005
# of downloads: 39

average rating: 8.25
review count: 15
review this level

file size: 221.52 MB
file type: TR3
class: City

author profile(s):

Reviewer's comments
"This is another series I'd steered away from, intimidated by its sheer size (not to mention, it's kinda funn that we have two lenghty TR3 series with the same name). On my journey to review all non-TR4 levels, I was bound to play these at some point, and I can honestly say I wish I'd played it sooner. Gameplay is rather standard, relying on the ever tired formula of finding buttons or keys to open far away doors rinse and repeat, but the settings are rather unique. The Railway Station on the first level is a good example, it's pretty unique but sadly the end of the world is pretty much a part of its design, and then as the levels went on you go through city scapes, a base at bayside, and this first episode ends up in a very eerie series of underground tunnels underneath this massive ghost complex headed by Lara's enemies. Padding also comes in different flavors, as a timed run which spans pretty much the entirety of a level (it's fair and easy though, don't worry), a very lenghty monkeyswing followed by an equally long ledge shimmy, and a huge maze in the last level, but thumbs up for neatly making use of a soldier NPC to lead you to the exit. There's a lot of customization going on, from colored pickups to reskinned or remeshed enemy models, plus Natla's playable version looked awesome (except for the fact she has two heads overlapping, which can lead to some pretty bizarre flashes of her faces when the camera shifts around her), and I particularly loved the new weapon sound effects, a welcome change after so many TR3 levels. This levelset has its issues, of course, such as a lever needing to be operated twice to activate, a blaring alarm sounding 24/7 (why is this mandatory in any base/lab TR3 levels?), and Way of Natla crashes whenever I tried to load it from the main menu, and then went on to crash when I used a flare. I'd pinpoint the issue to missing animations, as the object in Natla's hands is nothing less than her own head lol. 175 minutes, 5 secrets. 02/20" - Treeble (09-Feb-2020)
"This massive adventure is bundled as a single download, but for review purposes it's divided up into three segments. It's not clear from the walkthrough or the level info where the segments are divided, but I'm now into the 8th level so I can confidently say I've completed the first one by now. It's a TR3 release, and the relatively crude textures of this engine no longer excite me as they once did, but the gameplay is crisp and inventive. You get many different looks as you progress, the flares and armament are ample, and I'm having a good time without trying to keep track of how much time I've spent in each segment." - Phil (10-Jul-2017)
"An extraordinary adventure for all the TR3 lovers. Even when some levels are too short, you'll find here innumerable tasks to accomplish, hundreds of enemies to shoot and many dangers. Unfortunately there are very few puzzles to solve, and most of the tasks consist of pressing buttons, pull switches or find keys and cards. In the short level playing as... Sophia? the game crashed several times and I had to previously start a new game to be able to reload savegames. I also found a secret in one of the levels where I could pick up shotgun ammo without limits so when I was tired I left there the remaining ammo. The last level was the best, with a friend guiding you through the big maze and the frenetic ending. I also liked the good design with the care with texturization, lighting and well placed musics and cameras. Recommended for all those who like exploration and don't need good puzzles to get fun." - Jose (05-Jul-2017)
"Finally beginning Episode 1 of this monstrous project, how does it turn out? Well, really good, actually. You get eight levels here, which all contain many different tasks to do. Keys to find, switches to pull and small puzzles to solve. Wait till you get to the cinema to see something great. I am now looking forward to Episode 2. Onward we go..." - Ryan (16-Jul-2016)
"I think much of that storyline should be revealed directly in the game, because if you read such stuff as text you imagine a different and often better thing than you then play through. This was also the first readme where I gave up reading the whole thing, I stopped before the descriptions of particular levels, to risk stumbling upon some listed problems. But nothing serious occured except from the failing flipmap in the first level - something is wrong with the switch so the room didn't get flooded and I lost a couple of minutes figuring out what's going on. Other than that the storyline is complete and nicely led though some locations are just oversized like the initial station, or totally skippable like the ending maze - btw using the guide to let us out of there was fine, but not in combination with extra hidden pickups which force checking the other passages anyway. Some other bits of scenery are dark and unpleasant but this is well justified. What isn't is their poor texturing. Many other sections are well done like the city, the factory or the T-Rex lockup. Meanwhile great enemy usage and useful secrets imply no lack of ammo and no need for medikits, and from time to time we can also deal with some unusual trap configurations, or even a keypad puzzle ported into the old engine. SUMMARY: Not a masterpiece but good enough to leave me curious for Part 2." - DJ Full (17-Jun-2016)
"Beginning my trek through this absolutely monolithic undertaking of a project, I was immediately taken aback by the high production values demonstrated here(serving as an effective contrast to the kind of content we've come to expect from custom levels released under the TR3 engine over the years.) And as I found myself getting much deeper into the game, it quickly became an immersive and ultimately fun experience that I had a great amount of difficulty putting down, in order to deal with more important real-life matters. While I will admit that the quality isn't necessarily perfect a lot of the time though(with the gameplay occasionally devolving into repetition or have the odd harmless bug pop up and break the immersion somewhat to name several pet peeves I had), I would be lying if I didn't say that most of my time spent playing through the first one-third of this release wasn't gleefully entertaining to go through. Highly recommended, and am now starting up Part 2 when I have enough free time on my hands to begin properly." - Ceamonks890 (15-Oct-2014)
"So, finally I completed the whole game. I have to say I can't decide what I am thinking about it. There are some very good levels, but, also many drawbacks. It is pretty large. It is enjoyable if you get used with some mistakes, this adventure can be a very good choice. Well, I liked Lara's outfits. Also, I like the boss fights, except the fight with Sophia. I found it a bit supernatural. OK it was fascinating to have three Sophias attacking at once, but it didn't seem so right. This author likes to place many big enemies at once, like a laboratory full of Willardspiders. Not very good idea, at least for me. The author had some very good ideas, like the "store" in the city with Winston... Although, I found the gameplay a bit repaeted. It was nice at the beggining, but I started boring after a while. You usually have to run here and there and just press buttons to open gates. Some levels were really great and others a little bit boring. Sometimes I was confused with the architecture, but that's not author's fault. What I found more interesting, is playing as Natla. That level had dew bugs, but they can be easily skiped. Texturing was many times good and other didn't seem nice. The author used some great textures. The problem is that he didn't use them very well. The result could be better. The author is talented but he needs to work a little bit harder. Lighting was the wickest spot of the game. In some ocasions was badly placed. Some rooms looked nice and had good lighting, but they are rare. Also, cameras didn't work right many times and the enemies were reacting silly very often. One thing is for sure. Boris is talented, but he needs to try more. If a fixed version of this game would come out, I'd be glad to play it" - AdamR (24-Nov-2011)
"I really liked this level series because it kept me on my toes, especially during the first eight levels of this adventure. Nevada and London from Tomb Raider 3 come to mind. On the one hand, the levels were intimidating (with electric trains, deadly machines, trip wire, barbed wire, spikes, blades, giant creatures...), but at the same time, I wanted to continue. The cinema and the rocket launch area were particularly original and well-designed. The enemies were challenging, but with the appropriate gear, anything is feasible. The T-Rex battle did require some thinking though in order to emerge unscathed. Some timed runs were more challenging than others, and even though Lara had to find quite a few switches and key items, the adventure was designed in such a way that I felt like there weren't too many switches and keys to find. The jumping sequences were incredible, and the light pillars were gorgeous as well. The music also added touches of tension and awe to the level. It seems that Natla had an easier time than Lara though. Overall, this adventure was so impressive that I thought I was playing an official Tomb Raider game." - Sakusha (01-May-2011)
"This is the start of a very nice adventure using the TR3 engine. As the author states, the beginning level is not as good as the remaining levels. However, the levels get better and better leading up to a climactic ending where Lara saves the day. I really became immersed in these levels, as the atmosphere, enemies, objects and textures are very nice. I was, however, very annoyed by the almost constant alarms which could not be turned off nor could the volume be adequately turned down. Nonetheless, a very exciting and fun game...onto part 2!" - Shandroid (14-Oct-2010)
"The feeling that levels like the factory ones gave me was so untypical for a non-TR4 level but I realized now how much is still possible with them. Railway Station was a good start with some lacks (for example you could see but not get grenade ammo) but still enjoyable. The "new move" of Lara killed by a train was very funny. Secrets were rather easy to find. (7-7-8-7)
The Cinema and the two between-levels were simile; I liked the well-lighted atmosphere in the first rooms in the cinema level very much. The big timed run was quite easy if you know the route but I needed a second try because I stopped too often for killing enemies. (7-7- 9-8)
The first part of Old Factory was mostly set in one room but there were so many traps and puzzles it grew into such an amazing level. Enemies and electricity machines were well placed but there were not too many of them. The second part was equally good, the unlimited(!) amount of shotgun shells can give you a good reserve, but this as a secret was unchallenging because it nearly was on your way. The telephone puzzle was really innovative and fun. (8-8-9-7)
Factory Bay impresses with the outdoor area which I found very well built, but the gameplay was a bit slow and tedious because of the long monkey swing, ladder and swimming parts.(6-8-9-8)
The Way of Natla was short and I liked the huge pyramid room reminding me on TR Anniversary's pyramid. The WT says you can't use any other weapons than pistoles but sometimes I got to work the other weapons, but then Natla grew into a big garlic-like something and the game crashed eventually. Subterreanean Base was a great final level with nice lever-searching and puzzles. There were many enemies and falling blocks or other traps. The button puzzles was quite hard to figure out before you realize that the painting at the back wall shows you the right ones, at least for me. Unfortunately there was no final boss fight but the fact that the second part was directly connected to end trigger comforted me. (7-8-9-7)
Resumingly one can say that this three levelpacks are the best till now in TR3 history and I wished more builders give the old engine a try and make great TR3 levels like this." - manarch2 (02-Sep-2010)
"The Railway Station (6/7/8/7, 40 min, 3 secrets): The starting level serves primarily the purpose of collecting plenty of pickups. It looks a bit bland, but actually works better if you read the storyline and thus know why you are here. Dying by train looks truly spectacular! There are a few invisible door blocks and that alarm audio sound is really annoying in several places in this and some of the subsequent levels, but overall audio choices are a strong point - changing in the right places to shift the mood slightly. There is one game stopping moment where you have to use a switch twice without any hint and the overall course is enjoyable as it goes in circles and brings you back to places.
City Quarters / Cinema (6/7/8/7, 35 min, 3 secrets): This part seemed a bit weak with very little to do and dark and not overly inspired setting. Not sure how the dinos fit in, but killing the T-Rex was fun nonetheless. plenty of guards to shoot in the cinema and the projector room was nice with a simple but very clever 'special effect'. The highlight here was the long (but not overly tight) timed run through the entire cinema level.
Old Factory (8/8/8/8, 65 min, 2 secrets): Now we're talking. For me this is clearly the strongest part in Episode 1. A great looking factory environment with plenty of well used animated objects sets the scene. And gameplay is more interesting thanks to the Thames Wharf machines and more variety with push blocks, a Zip Line, some traps and a nice little code card puzzle. Not to forget the mine cart riding at the end - always a plus!
Factory Bay / Way of Natla (7/8/8/7, 35 min): Reminiscent of TR5 this is more of a Base level with a short loop in an outside area added. Several rather well done camera views need to be mentioned here. The level itself is a bit of a switch hunt and the highlight is the great flipmap as you flood the room with the trip wires and make them explode. The short interlude where you play as Natla works nicely to support the storyline but is rather uneventful by itself. Make sure you don't miss the battery pickup near the beginning or you have to go back all the way. Had a crash here after lighting a flare.
Subterranean Mines (7/8/9/7, 35 min): The finale of Episode 1 and a good one it is. Starts off with a nice little pad trigger puzzle and then turns into a battle ground with plenty of guards, mutants and giant mosquitoes to shoot. Not a big challenge with all the weapons and ammo acquired throughout the previous levels. The mutated arms of some of the later guards were a great touch! After an odd and very unnecessary maze area, you then get to the adrenalin race finale where the rockets are about to launch (ie an earthquake shakes the screen) while you need to find your way to the tower to stop them - very well executed!
Overall, this first episode presents itself as a very coherent series that nicely supports its storyline and I now look forward to diving into Episode 2." - MichaelP (21-Jul-2010)
"Just finished Episode One , had a real deja vu on TR3 feeling ,gameplay straightforward continued in a very straight order like in the old days .But in Russia in the old days before the change you had to be well armed to overcome your challenge and Lara is well armed in this adventure.I have only come across this issue by reading the review section in and I never knew about this builder Somailenko. Episode 2 and 3 is probably a seperate download . but I will definetely continue playing. Sadly there seem to be a few graphic problems when you have to reload your savegame twice to restore the game properly , but it works . Unfortunately even the inventory is only in russian ,but as long as you are able to figure out the amount of health and wheapons left for you it doesnt really matter as long as Lara doesn`t start to talk russian. This adventure made in 2002 certainly cannot match the latest top class issues in the TRLE List 2009 as to perfection but is definetely worth giving it a try in times where nothing else from the big ones is about. Are we not really spoiled by all these fantastic games that our builders have created for us in the last years ? Would you pay any money for it ? You don`t have to as long as Michael and others spend their good own precious time and money to keep it up . It`s time for all users to say a big " THANK YOU " I am on my way for Episode 2 and 3 anyway." - Ruben (13-Nov-2009)
"This is one these games that must be warmly RECOMMANDED , for the levels are solidly built, innovative , and very pleasant to play , without having very difficult passages. The author has made a really great work , proposing levels which are quite varied , in legnth , in looks and in gameplay , fitting the complex storyline , using many objects and possibilities for good gameplay achievement or atmospheric purpose to create 'living places', plus there are things I 've never seen elsewhere in any custom level. No game is perfect, the texturing could be better in some places (wallpaper effect for some big walls , some textures look bad when blocks are bevelled, waferthin walls) , there is too much of this"alarm" sound in several levels of this first episode , some doors are not placed in portals , but I don't really mind these minor flaws, the greatest annoyance was the fact I had to reload twice each time I had to reload a savegame otherwise the textures did not wanted to show up, even if this annoyance remains bearable given the fact that you don't really have to reload that often in this fluent game. Pickups are provided generously and generally cameras are there to guide you. RAILWAY STATION [40 minutes / 8 9 9 7] A good level in a station and undergrounds with the textures of London. Despite some flaws (a couple of invisible blocks somewhere in the map) and a puzzle which was a bit unfair on me ( pull the switch twice so that something happens) I knew that I would enjoy this game as already the progression was quite enjoyable and the other ingredients were pleasant too, even if some of the enemies were not the smartest in this one (it seems their AI progressed in the following levels, lol). I quite liked the couple of secrets found here. CITY QUARTERS [4 + 10 minutes / Not rated] Although short a good hub level, in the second part after the Cinema , a T-Rex and raptors can be killed. CINEMA [ 22 minutes / 7 8 9 8] Not very long but memorable , the highlights being the great effect with the cinema screen and the great timed door at the end. OLD FACTORY [1 h 15 / 10 10 10 9] In my opinion this is the best level of the whole game , this level is really great and should be considered as a classic of its own. There is plenty to do while the progression remains steady , and the tasks at hand are sometimes quite involving , with variations of pushable blocks puzzles and use of deadly electrical machines. The main area you have to go to the top is quite impressive and very well decorated. There is a puzzle with numbers that was a bit too cryptic for me, (I had to look at the walkthrough) and there is the use of a mine car , which should have been more extended. FACTORY BAY [42 minutes / 9 9 9 8] The continuation of the previous, with some different textures , quite enjoyable also with the bay where a whale is swimming and which wants to follow Lara. Some enjoyable moves to perform and a deadly room where Lara has to avoid lasers. WAY OF NATLA [10 minutes / Not rated] A little parenthesis in the adventure as you are playing now as Natla. There is not a lot to do , I enjoyed the timed UW door, mostly you have to climb a structure while letting guards killing friendly soldiers for you. This is actually brilliantly done, even more because in the next level , you will be playing with Lara again and the guards become enemies while the friendly soldiers are friendly with Lara who shall keep the same goodies than before Natla's interlude. One of the highlights of the game, not so much in terms of gameplay but in technical achievement. SUBTERRANEAN MINES [37 minutes / 9 9 10 8] Quite a good level this one too , beginning with a pad tiles puzzle that open and close doors, and the progression is really interesting until the end. All takes place underground with a good atmosphere. There are friendly soldiers that help Lara, even one who shows her the way out of a labyrinth. Aside from guards , there are dangerous mutants , and flying mosquitos as enemies. The level ends with impressive views of places collapsing and rockets being launched. Very good stuff !" - eRIC (09-Nov-2009)
"I had already played this twice previously, once when the individual levels were released, and then again as a series, using my own TombPC.DAT to play in English using the South Pacific Demo. So clearly I think these levels are pretty good. For review purposes, I played the Russian release, which contains all sixteen levels. The author's doc files, in English, Hungarian, and Russian, divide the levels up into three Episodes: Episode One contains the Russian levels one through eight; Episode Two has Lara searching for artifacts throughout the world in the next four levels; and Episode Three has the last four levels, set in the north, with a final showdown with Sophia. In some ways the quest in the first eight levels (Episode One) is the most unified. Lara starts in a memorable train station where we quickly learn not to play on the tracks. I love the trains, though I've played this enough to be aware of the defects in this author debut level. Next are very short linking levels, "City Quarters," and a "Cinema," before a T-rex puts in an appearance (justified in the author's doc file). Lara reaches "The Old Factory", a favorite level of mine. This is huge: an awesome factory complex, then action in a large loading area, then swimming and an all-too-brief ride in a mine cart. This is quintessential TR3. Then in the "Factory Bay", Lara frees a pent up orca, for a delightful scene swimming in the bay. In a level lasting less than ten minutes we play as Natla, just so players know that Natla is launching nuclear missiles against major cities of the world. In the final level of Episode One, Lara battles mutants and guards through underground tunnels to reach the base and maybe abort the missile launch. Game play varies, but there are highlights throughout. Especially good is the author's ability to create plausible environments with rich details, background sounds, and music. When I played these originally there were no problems, and I seem to recall playing a Russian version without a hitch. But this release features a new interface, and I found the opening screen garbled. I put a config.txt file from another TR3 level into the folder, and so started the game by pressing a couple of times. To restore a game, I had to reload a saved game twice to insure the proper textures were installed. In "The Old Factory," a huge level, I needed to exit the game to desktop, then start again to restore Lara's appearance. After that everything worked fine. The game is playable, but the double reloads are annoying because all the levels work--all are identical to the levels I first played in English--so it seems only the new interface is messing up the load screen. I wish this were corrected, but this is still a must play series." - dmdibl (01-Nov-2009)
"If you can tactfully ignore the rather less than satisfactory Train Station which opens this multi-level adventure (some,but not all,of the trains will kill you;the tracks lead to the end-of-the-world;there are a few invisible blocks),then what develops is an absolutely marvellous Unnoficial adventure;full of inventiveness,variety,attention to detail,atmospheric locations,terrific lighting,well-textured environments,great music and exciting smooth-flowing gameplay.Standout moments abound - switching on the projector in the Cinema;the multiple water-wheels;the mean little electric machines;the quick railway journey in the Mine cart;the excursion with Natla and,best of all,the absolutely brilliant and nerve-wracking Finale with the destruction of the villains Headquarters. This plays out like an interactive James Bond film with occasional puzzles.Each level is more creative than the previous,and the amount of hard work on the part of the builder is applaudable. I can't wait to get to grips with Episode 2! Highly recommended." - Orbit Dream (27-Oct-2009)